Shifting Our Thinking: The Evolution of Work/Life Balance

Arin N. Reeves
November 2008

The search for work/life balance is over! No, the search is not over because anyone has found the formula for balancing work and life. The search is over because evidence is mounting that there is actually no such thing as work/life balance.

The search for work/life balance began in the late 1960s when employers first encountered waves of women entering pink-collar and white-collar jobs and realized that managing this new category of employees, “working mothers,” required a radical change in traditional workplace infrastructure. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the U.S. federal government contributed to advancing work/life balance for working mothers through programs, legislation and benchmarks (i.e. the Presidential Conference on Families, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Quality of Employment Survey). In the 1990s, most workplaces had some form of work/life balance programs in place, and there was a feverish proliferation of work/life balance books, conferences, consultants, and employee assistance programs. By 2000, work/life balance had evolved to include men and individuals who weren’t parents.

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